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Charleville distance education

Education / November 15, 2017

Charleville School of the Air's first teacher-In-charge, Anna Andler, at her desk in 1966, features prominently in the history book.

Part of the commemorations for the Charleville School of Distance Education’s golden jubilee in mid-August this year included a celebratory book, an eclectic collection of facts and recollections, anecdotes, comments and photos that show the human element of such a uniquely Australian school.

Coming from a P&C meeting discussion, it is the creation of Mitchell’s Jennie Bucknell, renowned as the author of Bush Kids, and a past parent, Julie Hawker.

After discussing formats, a call was put out to the extended school community, past and present, for contributions in the form of memories and photos.

“The response was incredible and speaks volumes of the strength of community of this school, ” Julie said. “We were flooded with beautiful photos, memorabilia, anecdotes and memories.”

A photo from the 1967 Sports Day Muster at the Charleville showgrounds, in its second year. Anna Andler, the first teacher-in-charge, initiated the muster in October 1966, even marking out the track herself, with the intention of providing a chance for isolated students and teachers to put faces to names.

She said an overwhelming theme through the book was the community spirit of all involved with the school.

“Throughout all the changes with delivery of lessons, the strong relationship between the school staff, parents and students has never wavered.”

Never was that more evident than when the pair’s unreliable internet failed to cope with the amount of data they needed to transfer.

“Due to the vagaries of our internet we found that the easiest thing to do was to meet in Charleville, a 550km round trip each, several times through the making of the book, ” Julie explained.

“Jenny Swadling (the principal) had to open the school for us over the holidays at times so that we had somewhere to meet and access to the archives.

“Other times we found that the only way to share files was to drive to the nearest town and find a wifi connection.”

Any gaps in contributions were filled by school archives, which were made fully available for us to use for the duration of the project.

CSOTA fathers ambling down the track in a Father's Day race one year - there was as much laughing and puffing as there was effort.

Some precious contributions were those of the first teacher-in-charge, Anna Andler (now Curtis) who sent original copies of telegrams, invitations, newspaper articles and photos, and Helen Shannon (Hacker) who sent folders of lesson plans, photos, newspaper articles and past school publications.

These original documents, as well as the incredibly generous contributions from other members of the community, were invaluable for telling the story of the school over the decades.

The loss of so much school history in the 1990 flood made it difficult to put a lot of names to faces, according to Julie, but the authors had Bill and Jan L'Estrange volunteer to edit their work, and former principal Karen Tully as fact-checker.

Julie said they wanted it to be more than just a history of the school.

“We also aimed to capture the spirit of the school and give readers from all walks of life, a real insight into how a school of the air (school of distance education) works, ” she said.

It has been divided into three broad sections to delve into each aspect of the school community – at school, at home, and getting together – and followed the decades through in each section.

At School focuses on the school's development (including support services) and the teachers' experiences through the years; At Home focuses on the comments and experiences of children and their parents and; Getting Together represented all the times both sections of the school community come together, at sports muster, camps and swim muster.

There were plenty of funny anecdotes that showed even though things change, the challenges and triumphs don’t.

Kelly Twist, Juandah Downs, Mungallala, at kitchen play while her mother Kate was in the schoolroom.

Many teachers new to SDE/SOTA had to learn a new “bush language” when their students talked about mustering, poddies and smoko.

As teacher Jacqui Surman said, “I'd never heard of the Cunnamulla Fella, I'd never experienced 'smoko.' I'd never encountered so many individual children with the same lust for the land. Amazing!”

When School of the Air first began, the lessons were conducted over the RFDS airwaves. Anna Andler recalled that “lessons were a great source of entertainment and amusement for all, who made sure they took their lunch break during our two hours on-air.”

Children under the Kanyanna and Narungi banners at the 2011 sports muster.

Supplementary chapters include a history lesson on the the School of the Air in Australia and Queensland, and the quiet achievers, focusing on critical support networks such as the P&C and VISE tutors.

Did You Know? snippets are sprinkled throughout the book, and one of them perhaps puts the school’s achievements in perspective.

  • In 2002, the school choir performed at the ICPA conference held in Charleville. What made this performance different was that no choir members actually attended conference but rather all sang via the telephone at their remote home locations, along with students from The Southport School, who were gathered at their school. The students were accompanied by an isolated SDE student playing the digeridoo from his property near Injune and the choir teacher conducted the choir from her studio in Charleville. Upon completion of the item, students were able to hear the warm applause from the hundreds of conference attendees by phone. This is truly a testament to the schools motto of 'Divided by Distance, United by Voice.'

Jennie and Julie actively worked on the book for about 12 months, fitting it in around other things going on in their lives.

The book can be purchased for $40 plus a freight cost if applicable, by contacting Annabel Tully at

The book documenting the proud 50-year history of the Charleville School of the Air has made its way as far as Queensland’s parliamentary library, thanks to a donation by local Member, Ann Leahy.

Warrego MP Ann Leahy making a presentation of the history to Katherine Brennan, Parliamentary librarian at the Parliamentary Library.

The school’s first crackly HF radio transmission took place on January 24, 1966, which was celebrated in mid-August with the launch of a book amidst a weekend of celebration that included a reunion, markets, horse races, a trivia night, and a time capsule relaunch.

As a former distance education student, Ms Leahy told Parliament it was a significant milestone for the school, highlighting the importance distance education plays in ensuring all children in Queensland have access to quality education.